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fellowship Uncategorized unity

“They Were Together”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

When I study the phenomenal growth of the New Testament church, there is no doubt that they owed that growth to the divine source of the message they preached and the dedicated way in which the early Christians spread the good news. They also believed that message with all their heart, and that faith drove a sense of dedication and commitment no matter what obstacles they encountered. But, along with factors like those, they grew because they needed one another. They spent time together, not just in their assembly times, but at other times.

Luke highlights this fact. “They were continually devoting themselves to fellowship” (Acts 2:42).  “They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46). “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). They got together to pray (Acts 4:23ff; 12:5,12). They got together daily for preaching and teaching (Acts 5:42). Though the word is used in a wide variety of contexts, you’ll find the word “together” over 30 times in Acts. 

Isolation is the word to best describe the trend in the current culture. Much of it is self-imposed, with so many withdrawing from social contact for such reasons as the ironically-named “social media” and technology. We have created a virtual world that, to some degree, has replaced authentic, face-to-face interaction. 

“Community” is built upon commonality and likemindedness. Sports, politics, civic and social interests, and the like all draw people together into circles of sameness. Nothing should compel any of us more than our faith in Christ, the salvation He freely gave us, and the incredible, eternal future He has promised us. What an ironclad bond, this “like precious faith” (2 Pet. 1:1)! There is no greater bond of closeness I can imagine than spending time with people whose hearts are open and submissive to the commands of Scripture and whose lives are lived in faith and hope in the promises of Scripture. They can help me grow and build my desire. Or, as the Hebrews writer says regarding assembly times, we can “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (10:24). 

When I was a teen, I remember a song that captured this sentiment perfectly, if simply: “Fellowshipping with one another as we’re walking in the light, when we give our hearts to each other you can feel the love inside. For there’s nothing as sweet as fellowship as we share each other’s lives” (Lancaster). Not bitterness, isolation, suspicion, grudge-bearing, apathy, or disinterest. Sweet fellowship! A church that grasps this will grow and thrive, strengthened and sustained through trials, problems, and opposition. May we be a church that’s remembered this way–“They were together!”

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Photo credit: Rachel Wheat
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division Uncategorized unity

A Divided People

Neal Pollard

As David let flow from his divinely-inspired pen the peaceful refrain, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psa. 133:1), he knew something of the absence of unity.  Though God through Samuel had anointed him king, “there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David”  (cf. 2 Sam. 3-4). This internal strife spanned seven years and six months (2 Sam. 5:5). While he would reign over a united kingdom for the next 33 years, his grandson would cause a rift within Israel that would never be repaired (1 Kings 12). Division weakened them, dividing brother against brother, diminishing their influence and making them more vulnerable. Israel was unique among the nations of world history, being both a physical people and the spiritual people of God. Their division was not just a geo-political problem, but also a religious one.

Our nation has known the pain and injury of division. An entire war was fought that put states and communities at odds with one another.  Currently, we are being reminded of how sharp a difference exists in this nation along so many cultural, philosophical, social, and ethnic lines. It is openly displayed with words and even protests. How that will be resolved only time will tell.

For many centuries, there has been division between people who all profess belief in and allegiance to Christ. “Denominationalism” is a word that inheres division. Because men have inserted their own will and dogma, transposing it onto Scripture, there has been massive division that has been a stumbling block for unbelievers pointing to disunity among those who claim the same Jesus as Lord. Unbelievers have seen division, often shown in ugly and worldly ways.

Among those seeking to restore New Testament Christianity, seeking to be the church of the Bible and be non-denominational or pre-denominational, there has also been so much division. Some have foisted division upon the church by introducing doctrines not authorized by Scripture or in violation of Scripture. Those in such doctrines cease to be Christ’s church so long as they continue in them. Others have created doctrines beyond what Christ has authorized, making themselves the standard and arbitrator of right and wrong instead of recognizing Christ as such. Sadly, these, too, have caused division among God’s people. It is truly difficult to get self out of the way and to be governed only by the will of God.

So it is with every matter that divides us. Self, with all its ugly, blind, poor, and wretched tendencies, so often becomes a wedge making biblical unity difficult. Paul laments that it comes in the wake of lining up behind men and following them (1 Cor. 1:10-13). If ever the world has needed to find repose from rancor, ridicule, and roiling, it is the present hour. If they ever needed a safe haven where they found people who love one another (John 13:34-35), are patient, tolerant, compassionate and forgiving with each other (Col. 3:12-13), and who treat others with respect and kindness (cf. Luke 10:30-37), it is now. Each of us needs to examine our own work (Gal. 6:4). Are we helping our community, our congregation, our friends and our family see the good and pleasant unity found in making Jesus Lord–Lord of our lives, our tongues, our jobs, our classrooms, our social media accounts, our positions, etc.?   This is a stewardship that demands tender care. May we ever be about the diligent work of destroying division! Jesus died to do the same (John 17:20-21).

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COMING TOGETHER

Neal Pollard
For twelve years, I lived in the eye of Civil War History. Not only were many battles fought in almost every community neighboring Mechanicsville, Virginia (our home), but two were fought at Cold Harbor. While living there, I became an avid relic hunter–a type of amateur archaeologist digging for buttons, bullets, and buckles. Thanks to Dave Young, Sr., and Dave Young, Jr., who “pulled” me into this hobby, I got to see history up close and personally. It was fascinating, in one sense, to stand on the very ground where such history-shaping events occurred. In another way, the very activity was a sobering reminder of the tragedy that divided a nation. It even divided households, with brother fighting against brother.

It has often been reported that after that awful war, when Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy and Ulysses Grant of the Union died, their widows, Varina Davis and Julia Grant, settled near each other and became the closest of friends (Atlas Obscura). What a remarkable story of how two people, from opposite sides, came together! Their husbands were philosophically and militarily opposed to one another, but their spouses overcame those hindrances.

I never cease to be amazed at the differences that are overcome in Christ. On foreign mission trips, we may go to places where our governments are antagonistic to one another and find our common bond in Christ. Race, culture, education, and finance are all surmountable barriers in Christ. Ephesians 2:16 reveals how Jew and Gentile were reconciled by Christ’s cross in the church. God intended the church to be the place where people, despite their diversities, can all submit to Christ’s authority and be one. Yes, even yankees and southerners. Even easterners and westerners. Even college grads and grade school drop outs. Paul also wrote, “For by one Spirit we were ALL baptized into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and have ALL been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many” (1 Cor. 12:13-14). In a world that tries to draw us apart and divide us, politically, ethnically, and regionally, Christ wants us coming together! Through the church, we can.

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compromise faith faithfulness Uncategorized unity

The Difference Between Unity And Union

Neal Pollard

When I was a little boy, I heard my dad contrast these two ideas, union and unity, with an interesting illustration.  He said, “You can tie two cats’ tails together and hang them over a clothes line. You may have union, but you do not have unity.”  Recently, political pundits have been making a somewhat similar contrast concerning the European Union. They are bound together economically, socially, and geographically, but there is at times a lack of unity.  These ties have not led to effective communication and information sharing in dealing with terrorist threats. Distrust, the ambitions of individual EU countries, and autonomous business dealings with nations outside its union all contribute to an uneasy synthesis between themselves.

There is great misunderstanding in the religious world and, at times, in the Lord’s church about what biblical unity is.  While there are those who believe that unity demands agreement on matters that ultimately are not established and determined in Scripture (how/if Bible classes are divided, whether to extend an invitation after a sermon, whether or not to meet on Sunday night, order of worship services—i.e., Lord’s Supper or sermon first, etc.), there are many others who believe that unity is possible where union is really what is attempted.

Scripture is the basis of unity! Jesus defined the oneness He wanted His followers to have as reflective of the unity He shares with the Father (John 17:20-21). Through His inspired writer, Paul, He emphasizes the importance of unity, saying that we are to “be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Unity is clearly defined as existing within a diligence to preserve the truth of “one body…one spirit…one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism…one God and Father of all…” (Eph. 4:4-6). The New Testament tells us in specific terms what’s involved in each of these. Attempting to be tied and bound to those who reject or attempt to change what Scripture says about these is not biblical unity. It amounts to tying together what’s incompatible and incongruous. That’s just inconceivable!

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unity

I REMEMBER CALE VERSUS DONNIE

 

Neal Pollard

1979 was the year I discovered sports, developing a fledgling interest in my home state’s greatest football team, the Georgia Bulldogs, watching Dale Murphy and Bob Horner, young stars on a woeful Atlanta Braves team, learning names like Steve Bartkowski, William Andrews, and Greg Brazina. I started collecting baseball, football, and basketball cards.  But my clearest memory and biggest sports’ memory in that seminal year of sports-fan-man-ship came when I walked into our living room in Cairo, Georgia, at the end of the Daytona 500.  I can’t remember how many laps I watched, but I watched them all in utter fascination—including the historic final lap.  The suspense, drama, and excitement was palpable, climaxed by Cale Yarborough coming down the inside in an attempted “slingshot” move and triggering a crash between himself and Donnie Allison.  The maneuver cost them both the victory as Richard Petty took the checkered flag.  But what I remember was not Petty’s win, but the altercation between Cale and Donnie’s brother, Bobby, who had stopped to check on his brother.  Cale hit Bobby in the face with his helmet, then, as Bobby famously recounted, Cale went to beating Bobby’s fist with his nose.  That moment (“the fight”) is credited with putting NASCAR “on the map” and leading it into the mainstream of American interest.

While it’s ultimately a matter of indifference that a fight led a sport to success, it’s profoundly sad that the religious world is often known for its division and difference rather than its being united in truth.  One of the biggest arguments against Christianity is that “Christians” (as the world sees them and understands the term) argue with each other.  As world religions spread and as secularism and atheism grow in our world, the strife and division among us is more negatively noticeable than ever.

This fragmentation could not be farther from heaven’s desire.  Jesus prayed for His followers to be united (John 17:20-21).  Paul condemned religious division (1 Co. 1:10-13) and called for the body of Christ to be one (1 Co. 12:13; Eph. 2:16; 4:4).  The world is heading toward eternal punishment and religious people who follow manmade doctrine are said by the Bible to share that tragic fate (Mat. 7:21-23; 15:8-9; John 12:48; Gal. 1:6-9; Rev. 22:18-19).

When the world looks at those professing to be Jesus’ disciples, what should they see?  I know what Jesus wanted them to see.  He said, “”A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).  Let’s be known to the world as lovers, not fighters!

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unity

Church Cooperation

Neal Pollard

I have become more acutely aware of the importance of “church cooperation” working with a congregation that operates a school of preaching.  To get every student here and to support every teacher who prepares them for ministry, several congregations and individuals must give to make this a reality.  Those who contribute range from the very wealthy to the financially struggling, the highly educated to those not as much, the urban to the rural, and from the west coast to the east coast.  Congregations who give may be large or tiny.  But, all are needed and each works together to help produce men prepared to fulfill their ministry.

“Church cooperation” also is a term which applies to a necessary, internal function.  Within the church, there must exist a spirit and willingness to work together despite our differences—be it race, societal status, religious background (whether raised in the church or converted), and the like.  God anticipated such diversity, but still expects unity.  He is displeased with multiple, divergent “agendas” and frowns most emphatically upon self-seeking and self-serving individuals.  Whatever would fuel division, pride, fleshly lusts, greed, or worldly philosophies, must be identified and scuttled.  Paul wrote one congregation, saying, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phi. 2:1-4).  Why cooperate?  Because of Christ and what He has done. How cooperate? Positively, by oneness of mind, love, spirit, purpose, and humility. Negatively, by avoiding selfishness, conceit, and serving self-interest.

How easy it is to read that divine guidance, but how hard to practice!  Yet, it is essential to a congregation thriving and growing…together!  The sobering thing is that each of us is either a cooperator or a coagulator (hardening and hindering).  That is determined by our attitude, words, and decisions.  May we each resolve to be a “church cooperator”!